VIRAC, Catanduanes – National and local officials are optimistic that a 2.3-megawatt hydroelectric plant in San Miguel town in Catanduanes will lower electricity costs and push economic progress in the province.
Residential consumers currently pay P9.6308 per kilowatt-hour, or nearly P2,000 a month for a 200-kWh consumption. The amount is among the highest power rates in the country.
Sunwest Water & Electricity Co. (Suweco) will build the power plant in Barangay Solong and two others in Caramoran in the northern part of the island.
During the project’s ground-breaking ceremony in the capital town of Virac on July 29, which was – not surprisingly – interrupted by a power outage, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes declared full support to efforts toward renewable energy as an alternative to finite, fuel-based sources.
“The future lies in the full exploration and development of renewable sources of energy and Catanduanes is poised to be a leader in the field,” Reyes said. He cited the province’s vast natural resources and geographical location as ideal in developing hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, biomass, wind and ocean energies.
He urged local leaders to “maximize your advantages and make optimal use of what you have.” Catanduanes can be a self-contained island in terms of power, he said.
Elizaldy Co, chief executive officer of Suweco, thanked the secretary for the DOE’s speedy approval of the operating contracts for the 2.3-MW Solong plant in San Miguel, the 1.5-MW Hitoma 1 and 1.6-MW Hitoma 2 hydropower projects in Caramoran.
The plants are expected to be on stream by the end of 2010 at a cost of P120 million per MW or P660 million. Suweco has reportedly started earthworks for the 3-MW Kapipian hydroelectric power plant in Paraiso, San Miguel.
The total capacity of the four plants, or 8.5 MW, will be more than enough for the power needs of the island, which has reeled from intermittent power outages in recent weeks as old diesel generating sets of the Napocor failed in succession.
At present, the existing 30-year-old Balongbong minihydroelectric plant in Bato town supplies only 20 percent of the 6.1-MW power requirement of the province. The balance is accounted for by two land-based diesel generator sets, a power barge, and the two mobile diesel generator sets rented by the Napocor.
Co promised cheaper electricity for the 36,000 member-consumers of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative Inc. (Ficelco). Suweco will charge 4 percent lower than the subsidized or approved generation rate of the National Power Corp. for the first three years.
Two other independent power producers – PowerOne Corp. and Catanduanes Power Generation Inc. – have signed separate energy sales agreements (ESAs) with the cooperative, but both have yet to deliver power from diesel power plants leased from the Napocor and Ficelco.
Suweco is not only concentrating on hydropower but also on wind energy development.
Gov. Joseph C. Cua agreed that the projects, once completed, would have a huge impact on the local economy. This will especially be important if the province pursues its dream to build a shipyard in Panganiban town, he said. Panganiban was home to a galleon-building industry during the Spanish era.
Cua commended Suweco for listening to the provincial government when it opposed a controversial energy sales agreement (ESA) it signed with Ficelco and for agreeing to comply with the procedural requirements of the project, such as consulting local officials and affected communities.
The island’s lone congressman, Joseph A. Santiago, said the development would finally set Catanduanes free from high power rates.